The Tool We Use for Product Design Prototyping Might Surprise You

Over the last few years, prototyping has become a critical and necessary piece of digital product design and development. Prototyping facilitates communication. It expresses the designer’s inner monologue. It improves designer-developer communication. And perhaps, most importantly, it build consensus with customers earlier in a product’s development lifecycle. (Read more on why we prototype.) Sure, wireframes are great for information architecture, but prototyping goes further in telling the whole UI story through movement and flow.

So with prototyping becoming a mandatory standard in the digital product design space, the market of SaaS products that strive to make it easier has exploded. You have InVision, UXPin, and Proto.io, to name a few. And then you have tools like Origami and Framer.js that are so interactively rich that they almost produce a veneer of a final product.

Yet none of these tools have been able to satisfy our primary requirement: to create rapid prototypes that demonstrate the user journey and interactions between events in that journey. So after intense rounds of scrutineering, we determined that the best tool to satisfy our prototyping needs was—wait for it—Keynote.

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Yep. You read that right. Keynote. Apple’s answer to PowerPoint.

Keynote-icon

Obviously we need to explain our decision-making process and communicate why we opted to trust a process as critical as prototyping to a product that is most commonly used for slideshows and presentations. Ultimately though, this is about a design team sitting down and defining its prototyping needs in relation to all project stakeholders: themselves, delivery teams, customer, users. Keynote might not be right for every design team. In fact, it probably won’t be right for many. The point is to define your prototyping objectives and put some tool evaluation criteria together. So here’s why we prototype with Keynote…

Low Barrier of Entry

A few of the prototyping tools mentioned above are relatively easy for a designer to pick up. But at the other end of the spectrum, those that are more feature-rich and complex have a significant learning curve. Learning curves eat time and time is money. It’s a rare case that a potential design hire comes in and isn’t familiar with Keynote as it’s bundled into every Apple computer and is available on the iPad and iPhone. This reduces ramp-up time for new team members and gets them into projects faster.

Flexibility

Regardless of what platform we’re designing for (iPhone, iPad, Android, web, etc.), Keynote is usually pretty flexible in its ability to communicate prototypes effectively. Of course this can be said for just about any prototyping product on the market, but flexibility is one of many important criteria, all of which need to to be satisfied.

Core Animation and Transitions

Because Keynote is an Apple product, it is built with Objective-C, the common language across all Apple operating systems. Why does this matter? Well, for one Keynote has access to all the components of Core Animation. Core Animation is how graphics are rendered and animated in the Apple OS environments. This means our prototypes animate exactly the way they would once functionally coded. Easing, tweening, fade-ins and fade-outs are all supported as they look on a phone, tablet or desktop.

This may seem like a moot point for web applications though, right? What about those? Well that is one case for which we make certain concessions. Most animation tools for web are CSS or Javascript transitions. A good amount of these transition are mimics of those in Core Animation but can fall short from time to time. That shortcoming however is negligible compared to the prototyping benefits Keynote offers our design team.

Low Cost

As mentioned, Keynote is packaged into iOS and therefore costs virtually nothing. There aren’t any user limits or subscription models. This saves money and allows our department to budget other tools to add to our process.

Is Keynote the right prototyping tool for every design team out there? Probably not. Will we always use it for demonstrative prototyping? Maybe not. But for now we have found that it meets the prototyping requirements of the various stakeholders involved in our projects—and that’s what matters.

Want to see a few of the prototypes we’ve built in Keynote? Send me a tweet @johnnynines.